If there’s one name that conjures up images of muddy tracks left behind in the wake of victory, it has to be Jeep. It may not be the best ad campaign, but the Second World War did make the Willys Jeep a household name. In India, we are never really far from it as the Mahindra range of vehicles, especially the Thar and the Bolero, bear more than just a passing resemblance to this legendary design. So when the phone rings, giving you a day’s notice to pack your bags for a trip to the western US, you hardly ever argue with the voice on the other side. This was a chance to get to know Jeep up-close, in its natural habitat.
The plan was to survive the 36-hour journey from Mumbai to Reno and then embark on an off-road adventure that many would only be privileged to experience once in their lifetime. If it sounds relentless, that’s maybe because it was. Except that when you prepare yourself and your car at base camp, looking at the 35km route map of the Rubicon Trail, you can’t help but feel the adrenalin rush gushing through your veins and your right foot twitching to bring some of the 280 horses to life. I say “some” because this trail is not about outright power but more about torque, articulation, traction and of course, manoeuvring through the toughest terrain any production car will ever be exposed to.
Thanks to the Pentastar 3.6-litre V6, the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 10th Anniversary Edition has a generous 35.95kgm of torque available via a part-time 4WD system. The relatively light-footed drive for the first couple of miles on gravel was almost like Arnold Schwarzenegger tugging on 5kg dumbbells. But this surface did allow for just enough lack of concentration to appreciate the improved cabin features and creature comforts on the 10th Anniversary Edition model I was driving. Contrast stitching in red, 10th Anniversary signature on gauges, silver accents around the cabin, a pretty capable Alpine sound system and the one small button that hardcore 4x4 fans will love – an axle locker and sway-bar disconnect option. Jeep isn’t lying when they say that this is the most capable off-road vehicle ever made!
Six miles into the trail and we’d long left the smooth tarmac overlooking Lake Tahoe. It gradually started to get serious with rocks, boulders and general hostility that would scare a lesser SUV. The time taken to dispense a few metres on this terrain was not very different from the crawling city traffic in any Indian metro and yet, this felt infinitely more peaceful and challenging at the same time. With an entourage of more than nine vehicles, it’s always easier to not be the lead car simply because of what lies ahead. Braking in front of an intimidating boulder followed by a rock crawl of demonic proportions, it would be impossible to convince yourself that a car can actually clear this seemingly insurmountable hurdle. But as I saw the lead car tear through this maze of unruly earth, I engaged the 4-low mode and crawled over what could be considered a small mountain. Metal grinded and scraped, tyres struggled to find tractable surface, I feathered the throttle and brake pedals to ensure a safe landing and the Jeep Wrangler came out on the other side with no side effects at all. It may not have the convenience of a terrain response knob but between the Rock-Trac transfer case and Tru-Lok locking differentials, it manages to get you out of any slush this side of a tsunami. With over half an inch of increased ride height over the standard edition and running on massive BF Goodrich KM2 265/70 R17 tyres, it made mincemeat of the Rubicon Trail.
After making a brief stop for lunch at the half-way point, I was informed that the remaining part of the climb was going to be even more extreme. As I soon realized, the Trail Guides weren’t just trying to scare me. The speed of ascent went down by another couple of kph, essentially bringing my pace to a boulder-crawling 1kph. Having a good spotter on this part of the trail was imperative and the Jeep Jamboree volunteers were experienced enough to pull even a rookie off-roader out of a potential pitfall. Certain switchbacks had exposed tree roots the size of a hatchback and rock formations that threatened to slice the roof off your Jeep, but apparently, nature was kind enough to let these Wranglers just scrape through without much damage. The low-end torque of this Rubicon Wrangler is comparable to a diesel motor and at no point did I feel the need to have more thrust out of a slushy section or when making my way up a steep climb.
There is no doubt that the Wrangler Rubicon 10th Anniversary Edition looks purposeful. With its new winch-ready bumpers, Power Dome on the hood for air intake, Mopar rock rails and red tow hooks, it looks as comfortable doing off-road duty all day as Clint Eastwood on horseback. But its real talent lies within its engineering and over 70 years of on-the-job experience. After a gruelling two days of non-stop rock climbing and flattening forests, the Wrangler returned to dry tarmac without scratch, rattle or broken rib cage.
Can’t say the same about me, though. But it did change my perception of what a Jeep really stands for. When these cars arrive on Indian soil, they will be overqualified for our roads, and that can only be a good thing!